How to make a Hamas, Israel ceasefire in Gaza stick
Contrary to Hamas reports, Israel claims there is no ceasefire deal for the Gaza conflict. But US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is en route to Jerusalem, and an agreement appears to be in the making. Making it stick will require regional commitment.
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In the past year, Hamas has repositioned itself and reviewed its regional alliances as a result of the so-called Arab Awakening. In particular, a strong disagreement between Hamas and its historical patron, the Assad regime, over the way the Syrian government was handling the political opposition has led to the relocation of the group's political bureau away from Damascus.Skip to next paragraph
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This shift was accompanied by a strategic realignment, away from Syria and Iran, and closer to countries like Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey.
Hamas is now harvesting the fruits of this timely policy change, counting on the support of these strong regional powers, in stark contrast to the state of near-isolation the group faced in 2008. Both Qatar and Egypt now have a vested interest in continuing to back Hamas, while helping to enforce a ceasefire, and defuse future escalation of the conflict.
For Qatar, luring Hamas away from the Syrian-Iranian Axis represents an important political achievement. Such a conclusion boosts the tiny emirate's regional standing and marks a success in the ongoing competition between the Arab Gulf states and Iran.
For Egypt, the stakes of preventing escalation and an Israeli military ground invasion are even higher. Newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s handling of the crisis in Gaza will continue to be the acid test of the Muslim Brotherhood's capacity to balance between ideology and pragmatism. It also represents Mr. Morsi's chance to prove his government is actually different than the overthrown Mubarak regime.
On Gaza, Morsi faces two competing needs. He must continue to back Hamas, showing ideological consistency and responsiveness to the Egyptian public opinion. On the other hand, the president's support for the Palestinians in Gaza should not jeopardize Egypt's stability and security, as well as its need to preserve a good relationship with the United States. This in turn means abstaining from directly assisting Hamas and policing Sinai to ensure Hamas and other Gaza-based militants cannot re-arm. It also means preserving the peace treaty with Israel.
If a ceasefire falters and the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates, these two competing needs will more and more become mutually opposite, leading Morsi into a very difficult predicament.
As such, the new Egyptian government has a special interest in obtaining and keeping an end to the hostilities – not just through a temporary ceasefire, but a more long-term negotiated arrangement. This can accomplish two very different goals: to simultaneously reassure the international community of Egypt's “pragmatism” while reinforcing the government's commitment to the Palestinian cause. This could be a win-win situation for Morsi.
So, if both the stakes and the players involved in the ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict are regional, it follows that maintaining a ceasefire and building a more permanent agreement requires regional backing. Regional involvement gives any agreement stronger credibility and stronger chances of holding up beyond the short term.